Facilitating and supporting political processes is a central component of a peacekeeping operation. This reflects their political nature, and the importance of political processes and solutions.

“They remain above all, a political instrument, which works to expand political space for the implementation of peace agreements achieved by peacemakers”

UN peace operations should be part of a comprehensive political solution to conflict. Without political engagement a mission is unlikely to affect a given political situation. In fact, this could jeopardize the mission’s own legitimacy and efficacy.

Contemporary intra-state conflicts are complex, with transnational elements and a proliferation of actors. The mission, especially the MLT, must navigate a crowded political environment. This lies at the centre of gravity of sustainable peace.

Operational Outputs

Host Country Engaged and Relations Promoted

Peace operations often face high expectations in the host country. It is essential for the ...

Peace Process Supported

A peace operation can only succeed if the conflict parties commit to resolving the conflict ...

Legitimate State Authority and Institutions Strengthened

In a post-conflict transition environment, state authority must be strengthened to re-institute the social contract ...

National Reconciliation Promoted

Sustainable peace depends on leaders and the population desiring reconciliation more than conflict. Reconciliation, however, ...

Peaceful and Credible Elections Held

Transitional political arrangements are common in many post-conflict countries. Such arrangements may remain in place ...

Ensuring the Political Primacy of Peace Operations

Peace operations are political undertakings. They “expand political space for the implementation of peace agreements achieved by peacemakers”.

They are both driven by and the drivers of a political process. This is why political solutions must guide all operational responses, despite security factors.

As the 2015 HIPPO report noted: “lasting peace is achieved through political solutions and not through military and technical engagements alone”.

The MLT must use political advocacy to address the causes of conflict. In doing so, it must also pay attention to the causes of peace.

It should engage with conflict parties (including those outside the peace process). It must work with CSOs and local populations to help prevent and resolve conflicts.

The HoM is the lead facilitator on the ground. They communicate with political interlocutors (the host government, conflict parties and regional partners). At the same time, all mission actors must be aware of the political implications of their actions.

The political process usually comprises a range of activities, including:

  • negotiating an enduring and comprehensive peace agreement between the parties to a conflict;
  • supporting and facilitating an inclusive political process to move towards a sustainable peace;
  • supporting the host government to extend legitimate state authority;
  • holding peaceful and credible elections that will strengthen the democratic processes; and
  • national reconciliation.

All these activities have become core mandated tasks for most peace operations.

Given the political dimensions of these processes, mission leaders must show political acumen. They must look beyond everyday professional perspectives to underlying political imperatives.

For example, working with national police services is by nature a political task. A PC needs to engage national authorities and the mission’s Political Affairs section.

The same is true for the military. This may be uncomfortable for uniformed services, which see themselves as more apolitical. But finding political entry points for national reforms is critical to their success.

Peace operations often face high expectations in the host country. It is essential for the Mission to engage with national partners to ensure it meets people’s needs. This also helps sustain consent and national and local ownership. The host government is the principal partner in this endeavour.

Interactions between the mission and host government should aim to sustain the peace process, restore government control and manage potential relapses into violence. National military and police leaders play key roles in supporting national political processes. The mission’s Force Commander and Police Commissioner will thus need to engage with these leaders. This will help reinforce UN messaging and approaches to the political process.

At the same time, direct community engagement is necessary. This improves the Mission’s understandings of local realities. It also enables the mission to design better political and protection strategies.

The mission and UNCT should also act as a bridge between the local population and the host government. This facilitates a more inclusive and sustainable political process.

The UN Police component engages with communities, and with the national police. In doing so, it strives to support the creation of safe and secure communities. This, in turn, enables an environment in which political processes are more likely to succeed.

The HoM should maintain a channel of communication with high-level government officials. Personnel, including the UNCT, should transfer skills and knowledge to national counterparts.

Employing Community Liaison Assistants can improve the military and police components’ community. The Civil Affairs team also plays a key role in delivering field data to senior leaders. This calls for strong coordination on the part of the MLT to ensure unity of vision and message.

To perform its political functions, the mission will need a strong political and civil affairs team. Its job is to keep abreast of political developments in the host country. It must also identify potential tensions and use the mission’s good offices to engage with national counterparts. These will include government officials, community and/or traditional leaders and civil society.

It may also be possible to tap funding for quick-impact projects. This will help to build confidence in the mission, its mandate and the peace process.

DPO, DPPA and other entities in the UN can also provide substantive and political support.

Key Operational Activities

The mission’s operational activities to support this output include:

  • Managing the host country’s expectations about the mission’s objectives and deliverables.
  • Developing a political strategy that is informed by a sound conflict/political/context analysis; mainstreaming local perspectives (including women’s) when designing and implementing these strategies.
  • Providing advice and support to the host government to re-establish state authority.
  • Consulting with the local population on protection needs to gain improved situational awareness.
  • Ensuring an appropriate mix of male and female personnel engage with host government and local communities.
  • Promoting relations between the host government and the local population through confidence-building measures.




  • Key national partners/focal points identified.
  • Direct communication channels established with key national partners: government officials and representatives of local population, including women and youth groups.
  • Training and capacity-building activities to enhance national capacities initiated.


  • Relations between the host government and the mission promoted.
  • Joint programmes and support to host government and local population are implemented under the UN Human Rights Due Diligence Policy (HRDDP).


  • Legitimate state authority restored and/or extended, core government institutions functioning.
  • Trust and social contract between the local population and the host government re-established.


Challenges and Risks

  • The mission’s limited presence and resources make it difficult to reach populations in remote areas.
  • Risks are heightened in a scenario when the host government is complicit in attacks against civilians and/or when it obstructs the mission.
  • The expectations of the host government are difficult to manage.
  • Sustaining strategic consent for the mission is challenging.



Engagement is not only about consultation. Wherever possible, the mission should work with local partners to promote local ownership.

There will often be tensions between the wishes of the government and civil society. Missions can be too focused on dealing with the host-state government as their principal partner. However, this should not be at the expense of understanding and promoting the needs of the people outside the capital.

A peace operation can only succeed if the conflict parties commit to resolving the conflict through a political process. A mission deployed in the absence of such a commitment runs the risk of becoming paralyzed. Or, worse still, it may find itself drawn into the conflict.

A ceasefire or peace agreement is an indicator of whether the parties are ready for dialogue. But sometimes parties only sign such agreements because of international pressure. Negotiating a political settlement is usually a complex and delicate process. What is in the settlement is likely to determine which challenges arise in the implementation phase. Immediate windows of opportunity to address transitional justice may close later.

There may be a need for initial discussions on transitional-justice issues. The justice and human rights sections should involve the DSRSG in these discussions. Other senior leaders may also become involved.

Women and youth’s participation in a peace process must be meaningful. This reflects their status as victims of conflict and as drivers of recovery.

The MLT should maintain dialogue with women’s and youth groups. It should also meet with local communities and civil society. This helps foster transparent dialogue on gender-related issues within the peace process.

The MLT should also engage with national authorities on these issues. It should advocate for women’s participation in political and electoral processes, too.

For peace to be sustainable, women must feel secure. Their human rights must be upheld and protected.

The MLT has an obligation to lead by example. It should champion policies and strategies that incorporate gender and youth perspectives. This applies within the mission and in dealings with national and local authorities.

Contemporary conflicts are often marked by a fluid constellation of actors. In some cases, spoilers may emerge to obstruct or derail the peace process.

Spoilers may be sceptics of a peace agreement. But they may also include terrorist groups using violence to undermine its implementation. Many organizations prohibit engagement with non-state armed groups (NSAGs) that use violence.

UNHQ has recently developed guidance that allows for engagement with non-state armed groups. This enables peace operations to support political processes and carry out protection mandates.

Members of the MLT involved in negotiating settlements should consider the following:

Within the mission, the HoM handles the political aspects of the peace process. The MLT, UNHQ and facilitators/guarantors of the peace agreement will also play key roles.

Senior military and police commanders should work under the SRSG’s direction. Close coordination between the political, military and police components is crucial. This is especially vital when establishing and applying dispute-resolution mechanisms.

DPPA’s Mediation Support Unit can enhance the mission’s capacity to conduct and support negotiations.

Peace accords lay out long-term roadmaps for sustainable peace and achieving state resilience. But they often leave details related to the machinery of government vague.

Key Operational Activities

The operational activities of the mission to support this output include:

  • Establishing confidence-building measures.
  • Analysing drivers of peace and conflict, and stakeholder interests.
  • Analysing the influence of regional activities on political dynamics in the host country.
  • Developing strategic partnerships with influencing parties who have leverage over others.
  • Addressing political tensions at the community level, in close cooperation with the UNCT.
  • Ensuring the inclusion of women and youth in the peace process.
  • Establishing a strategic communication strategy.
  • Establishing verification mechanisms to ensure compliance and deal with violations.
  • Ensuring that the political process addresses social cohesion, inequalities and marginalization.




  • Ceasefire and/or peace agreements signed, and compliance mechanisms established.
  • Joint confidence-building measures implemented. • Strategic communication strategy planned.
  • Marginalized groups represented in the peace process.


  • Established mechanisms for resolving disputes used
  • Violence against civilian population and institutions decreased.
  • Factions communicating with each other in a productive dialogue.
  • Population included in the process, as verified by polling.
  • Basic policing, security and justice abilities developed.
  • Number and severity of violations decreased.
  • The host government extends its authority to large parts of the country.


  • Use of political violence ceased.
  • Governmental institutions address grievances and transitional justice process in place.
  • The rule of law respected by population and governmental institutions.


Challenges and Risks

  • One or more major parties withdraws its engagement in or consent for the peace process.
  • Parts of the population feel excluded or marginalized from the peace process.
  • The expectations of the population, including those of former belligerents, are not met.
  • The peace process fails to address structural causes of conflict or drivers of peace.
  • The international community remains disengaged or preoccupied with competing regional interests.
  • Regional developments or instability have a negative impact on the peace process.
  • The capacities of the host government’s national authorities remain limited.
  • The population does not understand the limitations of the role of the UN in the peace process.



The short-term need to provide security and basic services usually takes precedence. Thus, initial engagement with the host government tends to focus on security. But long-term effectiveness and sustainability depends on other functions. Examples include ministries of finance, planning and trade, and legislative bodies. Plus, avenues for citizen participation must exist sooner rather than later. The peace process needs to balance these needs. The mission should understand what is being negotiated. This will affect its concept of operations.

A related trade-off is between meeting urgent needs and fostering state legitimacy. It is important to include public agencies in planning, budgeting and decision making. In this way, citizens perceive their government as responsive to their needs. But the government’s capacity is likely to be weak. High-level officials may be more interested in political power than fulfilling their responsibilities. The mission needs to provide urgent support to local authorities. It must also ensure its partners have not committed human rights violations.

Specificity on contentious provisions may entrench some political actors’ positions. This can then delay implementation of peace agreements and even reignite violence. Likewise, vague and ambiguous provisions may sow the seeds of future governance problems. If the focus is on interests, specificity may be a problem. In fact, a detailed focus may prevent later complications or disagreements.

See Also

4.5 Public Order Established

Public disorder is destabilizing. It undercuts efforts to strengthen state security institutions. It is often ...

In a post-conflict transition environment, state authority must be strengthened to re-institute the social contract between the government and the population.

Citizens invest their trust in the state by engaging in elections and accepting the government. This trust should be met with legitimate institutions. They must be able to assume responsibilities, maintain order and ensure public safety. State institutions need to function throughout the longer-term development phase. This helps prevent a situation in which poor governance erodes public trust.

Extension of state authority is a core function of UN peacekeeping. Security is an essential precursor to a sustainable peace. Large, multidimensional missions therefore often project force to deter direct attacks from spoilers, and expand and secure government authority in contested territories.

But state authority includes a broader notion than strengthened security. Supporting the extension of state authority depends on understanding the socio-political context. The mission’s country analysis should also flag responses to structural causes of corruption. A range of other mission activities contribute to extending and consolidating state authority. These include support for rule of law, SSR, and human rights promotion.

The mission should support other actors helping national authorities extend their authority. Examples include agencies such as UNDP and actors such as the World Bank. The mission’s Rule of Law and Human Rights sections will play key roles here.

The mission can tap into programmatic funding such as quick-impact projects, trust funds and the Peacebuilding Fund to support local or regional state capacities and deliver peace dividends. However, these sources of funding are not sustainable. The MLT can play an outsize role in mobilizing long-term support and partnerships with UNDP, the World Bank and/or bilateral donors.

Coordination functions may vary depending on sectoral expertise. The mission will add value through its support for the political process. The same applies to its network of political and civil affairs staff in the country.


Key Operational Activities

The activities of the mission to support this output include:

  • Contributing to improved security, including in contested areas.
  • Facilitating broad dialogue on the nature of political institutions and good governance.
  • Helping to build a general public consensus on the roles and mandates of political institutions.
  • Supporting the restoration of an accountable public administration, especially in areas dealing with natural resources, land, property rights and other potential causes of conflict.
  • Helping to build the state’s capacity to tackle corruption in governmental institutions.




  • Agreement on appropriate laws, accountability mechanisms and responsibilities for public institutions.
  • Public information mechanisms generate transparency and build wider trust.
  • Decline in violence associated with political discord, including conflict-related sexual violence.
  • Extension of state authority over its territory, including contested areas.


  • Peaceful democratic processes (including elections, law enforcement and service provision) taking root.
  • Broad dialogue on desired political institutions facilitated.
  • Civil education campaigns implemented in formal programmes and mass media.
  • Capacity-building strategy initiated to ensure durability of government structures.
  • Proper administration of natural resources restored.
  • Transparent budget process and taxation system established.


  • Arrangements in place to allow traditional institutions to function alongside formal institutions and jurisdictions.
  • Capacities of oversight bodies enhanced and transparent.
  • National and international policies and responses are better integrated with long-term development frameworks.
  • Meaningful input to judicial and government sectors by civil society actors established.
  • Professional bureaucracy maintained beyond the term of first post-conflict administration.
  • Emergence of markets in core commodities such as food and shelter.
  • Free and open political culture supported, underpinning a strengthened state authority.


Challenges and Risks

  • The strength of responsible institutions may be compromised and may not be an immediate priority if humanitarian concerns are more pressing.
  • Traditional and/or transitional institutions and functions at the local level are more trusted than the nascent state institutions.
  • Donor fatigue becomes a real risk over the long term.



Traditional structures may prove to be more reliable and adaptable than international standards. But customary systems may not always respect international standards to which the state has signed up. They may also violate the mandates of international actors.

The mission might run a strategic communication campaign based on winning public support. This would entail a series of achievable, high-profile “wins”. At the same time, hard-fought reforms are likely to prove more supportive of a durable peace. The same is true of the less glamorous development of a viable bureaucracy.



See Also

Sustainable peace depends on leaders and the population desiring reconciliation more than conflict. Reconciliation, however, is a long-term process.

National reconciliation is a key priority in a post-conflict setting. It is critical to attaining a lasting peace and political stability. The political process must create opportunities and space for this to take place.

The work of the mission supports this process. In the immediate term the mission can provide crucial political leadership. This can serve to inspire the parties to a recently ended conflict.

Domestic actors need to re-assert control of political institutions. This is important when conflict gives way to development. But unless accompanied by a long process of reconciliation, it can lead to challenges.

The mission’s role is to help strengthen institutions, not particular groups or parties. It must handle changes in its relationship with the host government with sensitivity.

The HoM needs to be mindful of what constitutes a sustainable pace for the local population. The HoM also coordinates the international community’s efforts towards national reconciliation. This means engaging with the UN system, particularly UNDP and OHCHR. The HoM should be aware of potential programmatic tensions in its engagements.

International stakeholders can also support the reconciliation process. Regional actors, financial institutions, the UNCT and Member States can all play roles. The MLT can bring together these actors and generate donor interest and engagement.

The MLT could also invite donors to support a specific reconciliation fund. Under such a scheme, the HoM would be accountable to those donors for allocating funds.

Key Operational Activities

Operational activities by the mission to support this output include:

  • Contributing to a secure environment free from violent conflict and
  • Engaging with host government leaders to promote national dialogue and reconciliation.
  • Acting as a bridge between local communities and host authorities to rebuild trust.
  • Ensuring the civilian population begins to feel secure in the new political dispensation.
  • Providing training and capacity-building for key societal figures and youth.
  • Providing capacity-building for national/local media to support the reconciliation process.




  • Power-sharing agreements, peace accords or amnesties signed, credible and durable.
  • Key legitimate and credible persons to involve in reconciliation identified.
  • Legal, conflict-resolution or mediation training in place for those managing reconciliation efforts.
  • Advocacy and education programmes in place and effective.
  • Evidence of increasing perceptions of security among the local population.
  • Women and youth represented and at the forefront of reconciliation process.
  • Inclusive discussions on the drafting of a new constitution under way.


  • Laws promulgated or modified to allow successful implementation of the agreed reforms.
  • Process of restoring civil society participation commenced.


  • Domestic political institutions manage reintegration and criminal justice processes (forgiveness and/or amnesty).
  • National and international policies and responses better integrated with long-term development frameworks.


Challenges and Risks

  • Frequent breakdowns or reversals occur due to disagreements between the parties.
  • National reconciliation processes do not always result in the most just political dispensation.
  • Judicial partiality compromises ongoing judicial investigations and proceedings.
  • Uncoordinated relationships with judicial entities leads to untimely prosecutions.
  • Reconciliation risks establishing a regime of revenge and a reanimation of tensions.
  • National reconciliation processes resulting in regimes that combine democratic and non-democratic elements.
  • Non-constructive relationships between citizens and political parties undermine the promotion of national reconciliation.
  • Premature withdrawal of a mission jeopardizes the long-term peace process.



Missions tend to focus on the national level with national partners. But it is important for mission leaders to recognize that conflict has many local dimensions. Populations experience conflict in many various ways. To understand local conflict dynamics, the mission should engage with local populations. Their views may be at variance with those at the national level.

Peace and justice are fundamental to ending violence and preventing its recurrence. Building a durable peace involves addressing the sources of peace and violent conflict. Justice activities also require sequencing. If this process is too quick, it risks igniting a short-term tension between peace and justice. Justice is not only about respecting the victims and punishing the perpetrators. It also means re-establishing trust in institutions and reconstituting the fabric of a divided society.

There will be tensions between international and local priorities. In the context of reconciliation, donors may urge national reconciliation on the parties. But local partners may favour a slower, more gradual process.

Transitional political arrangements are common in many post-conflict countries. Such arrangements may remain in place until the first elections occur.

National authorities in transitional phases are often appointed rather than elected. Such appointments may occur via a brokered agreement by the parties to the conflict. Thus, they may not be representative of or recognized by the population.

Elections are often integral to political settlements and act as important benchmarks in a peace process.

Peaceful and credible elections and sustainable electoral management bodies are vital to political transitions. They legitimise governments and help the promotion and protection of human rights.

Elections in mission settings often take place in a context with a history of violent conflict. The mission and national actors thus need to mitigate risks. This involves strengthening the conditions for democracy and sustainable peace. In this context, a range of other actions need to accompany elections.

Peaceful elections are significant events in any transition to recovery and long-term stability. But they are only one element in this process. Elections should not, by default, lead to the withdrawal of the peacekeeping mission.

Efforts to enhance governance should address mistrust between the government and marginalized groups. It should seek to help repair what is often a broken relationship.

Depending on its mandate, the mission can play a role in helping organize elections. This can include providing logistical resources for the transportation and storage of electoral material. But this presents a dilemma. If there is little time to prepare for elections, the mission may face pressure to take a lead role. For instance, it may receive requests to distribute election materials. This presents capacity building and cost-effectiveness challenges.

Within the mission, an electoral component often leads support for elections. It should work with and coordinate the activities of all other relevant components: military; police; Political Affairs, Civil Affairs, Human Rights, and Strategic Communications sections; as well as relevant UN agencies. Due to political sensitivities the HoM should be actively engaged throughout the process.

The MLT should track stakeholder compliance with electoral aspects of political agreements. Failure to abide by these agreements can undermine the conduct of elections. In many ways this is a political effort.

The mission should also develop a security plan that fits into the electoral plan to support a secure and stable environment during the elections period. This will involve the mission’s military and police assets. Pre- and post-election periods may also see a spike in activity for the mission, as tensions may rise.

It is up to the mission to ensure international community support for its efforts. This support could be political, financial or logistical. The mission should play a leading role in coordinating donor support for elections. If this is not already the case, it should seek to have this included in its Security Council mandate.

The mission should maintain close contact with DPPA’s Electoral Assistance Division. It provides support to the focal point for electoral-assistance activities. Currently, this focal point is the USG for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs. They ensure UN system-wide coherence and consistency in electoral support.

Key Operational activities

The activities of the mission to support this output include:

  • Advising on the type of electoral system to put in place.
  • Supporting security-related conditions that allow peaceful and credible elections to take place.
  • Supporting the conduct of voter registration.
  • Providing technical assistance (e.g. legal advice and training of election staff).
  • Conducting public information campaigns about the electoral process.
  • Handling and defusing threats to the political and electoral process posed by spoilers.
  • Collaborating with other UN agencies to design electoral assistance projects.
  • Providing security and logistics support during the election process.
  • Planning for domestic and international observation of elections.
  • Providing political and technical support to the process of government formation.




  • National election commission and other relevant institutions established and functioning.
  • Effective electoral dispute-resolution mechanisms in place.
  • Political parties formalized and sensitized.
  • Environment with a free media conducive to safe conduct of elections achieved.
  • Electoral districts mapped, voter registration database created, and voter registration commenced.
  • Voter education campaign established to ensure equal participation.
  • Plans made to provide security in areas threatened by spoilers.
  • Finances, logistics and security support agreed for the conduct of elections.
  • Donor engagement and practical support determined.


  • Legislative framework for the conduct of peaceful and credible elections in place.
  • Mechanisms to transfer election support to UNCT (and, later, national authorities) developed.
  • Wide-ranging public information strategy geared to sensitizing voters and other electoral stakeholders implemented.
  • Security support, including patrolling, guarding and securing key installations and polling places, provided.
  • Transparent elections conducted in a credible manner and peaceful environment.


  • Arrangements for out-of-country voting (where appropriate) in place.
  • Elected officials perceived as representative by most of the population.


Challenges and Risks

  • Selecting a sustainable and nationally owned electoral system is challenging.
  • Security incidents and/or acts of violence destabilize the process.
  • Political will and/or capacity to conduct a credible process is lacking.
  • Financial, logistical or institutional support is unavailable or withdrawn.
  • A significant party, faction or group boycotts or refuses to take part in elections.
  • Failure to deal with electoral fraud leads key players to reject the results.
  • Political figures with a negative role in recent conflict return to office.
  • A disruptive, politically divisive environment harms the prospects for reconciliation.



Elections need to occur soon after the end of a conflict to prove that political progress is being made. But this may undermine their potential to be peaceful and credible. The timing of elections is thus crucial.

Any decision to include or exclude spoilers requires careful evaluation. Such a decision can impact the credibility and acceptability of the electoral process. It could also affect the long-term inclusivity of political and democratic processes.

Timely, efficient and peaceful elections are a must. In an ideal world, national officials will take the lead in electoral processes. But this may make timelines unrealistic and threaten the technical conduct of elections. All electoral support should build capacities and encourage sustainability and cost-effectiveness. Even if the process is less smooth than it might be with more international involvement.